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Patching Pot Holes in the Dirt Road

“Here’s you a shovel son.
Lets walk up the road and patch some holes.”

by N. Ray Maxie
N. Ray Maxie

Being raised on a rural oil lease in SE Cass County in the Ark-La-Tex region of northeast Texas was good; the country life. It brought me through some mighty interesting and unusual experiences. But don’t get me wrong here. I wouldn’t have traded it for any other upbringing. I tell you the truth, to this day; I have never adapted very well to big city life.

We were about 4 miles west of McLeod in the Rodessa Oil Field. The period of events in this story occurred in the 1940’s. I was about six to ten years old at the time.

My mother was a stay at home mom. A hard working homemaker who never worked a day outside the home in her long 83 years for any other person. She often said if my dad had a job, worked and made a biscuit, she would get half of it. And of course dad didn’t mind that because mom had a full-time job raising us kids. Keeping house, doing outdoor scrub-board, washtub laundry, cooking, mopping and all the laborious daily chores. And without benefit of any modern day conveniences. We were poor, but we had love.

Daily, in the oilfield, dad was a pumper-guager and often worked six or seven days a week. He had come up through the ranks of general flunky; laborer, roughneck and roust-a-bout for a Shreveport company named Louisiana Iron and Supply Company. Times were very hard back then and all the work was manual and labor intensive.

There were no paved roads in that rural area. The public roads maintained by the county were mostly all red iron-ore gravel, if we were lucky. They were also deep sand with many slick, red clay hills in some places. Even in those days, there was no Farm to Market state highways and state maintained roads were little better than the county roads.

The road to our little shotgun oil-camp house was a private oilfield road, as were all roads serving the oil wells and storage tank facilities. They were private roads and any maintenance or upkeep they received came from the oilfield employees themselves.

Many a school day I can remember walking home in late afternoon after getting off the school bus. That was way up on the main road, which was three quarters of a mile away. By that time of day, dad was getting home from his regular job about the oilfield.

I can see him now saying, “Here’s you a shovel son. Lets walk up the road and patch some holes.” And I didn’t mind one bit, most of the time! It was sort of fun working, or playing in the dirt, with my dad for an hour or two in the cool of the evening after school.

Most of the pot holes had been made by dad’s old 1939 Chevrolet pickup. It was our only family vehicle. My mother never learned to drive and dad used the pickup in his job. It was about the only vehicle to ever come down our dirt road. But occasionally dad’s supervisor might use the road, or maybe a working friend of his. That was about it for traffic on the dirt road to our house. It was one lane with two ruts made by wheels.

As dad and I meandered along looking for potholes, we would talk and laugh a bit. Always asking me about my schoolwork, he was interested in me getting a better education and not having to work as hard as he had all his life. He told me, “Education is the key to success in this life.” He had only been able to finish the eighth grade before full-time farm work for his family had consumed him. Thus, he tried hard to encourage us and provide better for his offspring.

Occasionally he would stop and pick up a shovel of dirt from the roadside, saying, “That’s a bad one. It needs several shovels of dirt in it.” He threw in some from his side and I threw in some from my side. Then one of us would walk on the dirt to pack it in the hole a bit.

We went along having fun as we worked. Some holes needed only a shovel full or two. I liked to throw shovels full of dirt and make it scatter. Then I would walk on it and make my footprints. But mostly, I liked to stomp the dirt into the holes to pack it down some.

This road-patching chore occurred fairly often. The dirt was soft and wouldn’t last many weeks. With the rain, the wheels splashing, it washed out the holes again, plus some new ones. But all this is the joy of a dirt road, of father and son working together. Along the way, learning an important life event. Or rather an accomplishment; the “rite of passage.” The rite of the inevitable passage from youth to adulthood.

One of my greatest desires in life is for each family generation to be better educated, better prepared, more successful and have a better life than the generation before. I believe I have had a better life than my parents before me, because of them. Because they insisted on a definite discipline and direction for my life; a Christian direction based on hard work and strong faith in a higher, Supreme Being.

I trust and pray that my children’s life and accomplishments turn out much better than my own. Their mother and I have tried hard to give them the foundation and direction young people so desperately need. Growing up surely isn’t easy this day and time.

Along the way I have learned something that I never heard my parents say, but I find it so true. Have any of you parents noticed this? “PARENTHOOD IS FOREVER.”

© N. Ray Maxie
"Ramblin' Ray" May 1, 2008 Column
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